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The Arctic Is Hot and Full of Algae

Climate is changing in weird ways up there.

The Arctic.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

As climate world fixated this week on the final wranglings at COP28, the researchers studying our changing planet delivered more bad news about the Arctic.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 18th annual Arctic Report Card was packed this year with words like “exceptional,” “extreme,” “unprecedented,” and “uncharted,” as one of the harshest places on Earth continues to melt and bloom before our eyes.

Arctic sea ice contracted in 2023 to the sixth-lowest level in the satellite record as the region sweltered under its hottest summer and sixth-hottest year ever documented. Record low May snow cover in North America was followed by the worst season in the history of Canada’s Northwest Territories, where over 16,000 square miles — an area almost twice the size of New Jersey — burned, displacing about two-thirds of residents over the course of the summer. Scandinavia, meanwhile, experienced its wettest August yet, as heavy storms triggered landslides and sent rivers spilling over their banks.

“This year is the year when things are really turning,” Tero Mustonen, an environmental researcher in Finland who contributed to the report, told The New York Times. “The north is now in a place where things will rapidly shift.”

There’s more to the transformation than disappearing glaciers and rising seas, though. Funkier things are happening, too.

Rising ocean temperatures pose a growing risk of melting — and releasing the carbon dioxide and methane trapped in — close to 400,000 square miles of underwater permafrost. Marine algae is thriving in the warmer waters, with its abundance in the Eurasian Arctic rising by 57% over the last two decades and once-rare harmful algal blooms becoming more frequent. Vegetation is also proliferating on land in the tundra, which has seen all eight of its greenest years in the satellite record since 2010 and marked its third-greenest year in 2023.

And while chinook and chum salmon populations crash, devastating Alaskan fisheries, there are more sockeye returning than fishermen know what to do with. In 2022, the number of sockeye in Bristol Bay was nearly double the 30-year mean.

With 2023 now confirmed as the world’s hottest year in modern history, the scientists behind the report also warn that it’s only a matter of time before the unrelenting pace of climate change in the Arctic is felt by the rest of the globe.

“The Arctic is now more relevant to us than it has ever been before,” NOAA administrator Rick Spinrad told NPR. Much of the things happening in the Arctic, he said, are “the kinds of impacts that we're going to see elsewhere in the country” in the not-so-distant future.

“What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic,” he said.

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Nicole Pollack

Nicole Pollack is a freelance environmental journalist who writes about energy, agriculture, and climate change. She is based in Northeast Ohio. Read More

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Sparks

Coal’s Slowdown Is Slowing Down

Rising electricity demand puts reliability back on the table.

Pollution.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

The United States has been able to drive its greenhouse gas emissions to their lowest level since the early 1990s largely by reducing the amount of energy on the grid generated by coal to a vast extent. In 2005, by far the predominant source of U.S. electricity, making up some 2.2 million gigawatt-hours of the country’s 4.3 million GWh total energy consumption, according to the International Energy Agency. In 2022, by contrast, coal generation was down to 900,000 GWh out of 4.5 million GWh generated. As a result, “U.S. emissions are 15.8% lower than 2005 levels, while power emissions are 40% lower than 2005 levels,” according to BloombergNEF and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.

But the steady retirement of coal plants may be slowing down. Only 2.3 GW of coal generating capacity are set to be shut down so far in 2024, according to the Energy Information Administration. While in 2025, that number is expect to jump up to 10.9 GW, the combined 13.2 GW of retired capacity pales in comparison of the more than 22 GW retired in the past two years, according to EIA figures. Over the past decade, coal retirements have averaged about 10 GW a year, with actual retirements often outpacing forecasts.

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Sparks

Trump Thinks EV Charging Will Cost $3 Trillion — Which Is Incorrect

Nor will charging infrastructure ”bankrupt” the U.S.

Electric car charging.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Shortly after being fined $350 million (more than $450 million, including interest) over fraudulent business practices and then booed at Sneaker Con, former President Donald Trump traveled to Waterford, Michigan, where he said some incorrect things about electric vehicles.

Even by Trump’s recent standards, Saturday’s Waterford rally was a bit kooky. During his nearly hour-and-a-half-long speech, the former president claimed that his opponents are calling him a whale (“I don’t know if they meant a whale from the standpoint of being a little heavy, or a whale because I got a lot of money”) and, improbably, claimed not to have known what the word “indictment” meant.

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Sparks

This Chicken Named Potato Will Teach Your Kids About Climate Change

A chicken from the future, to be clear.

Future Chicken.
Heatmap Illustration/CBC, Getty Images

If I told you there was a chicken named Potato who was going to teach our kids about climate change, would you think I was kidding? Either way, I’m here to inform you that Future Chicken, an “ECOtainment platform” co-created by Catherine Winder and Annabel Slaight, launched last year, including original content like a TV show that airs on CBC and YouTube, games, and a podcast, all aimed at warding off climate doom and instead highlighting climate solutions.

Winder and Slaight have, to put it mildly, impressive resumes, with Slaight having been an executive producer of The Big Comfy Couch and Winder a force behind multiple Angry Birds movies. The show’s premise is fun, and was actually thought up by kids. The main character is a chicken (named Potato) from the year 2050, a time when climate change has seemingly been solved. She travels back and forth between the future and the present, sometimes talking about the solutions of her time.

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